In 2004, while helping out at the Democratic National Convention, I wasintroduced to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Impressed,I reached out to shake her hand—and almost found myself with a handfulof her right breast.

This was no wardrobe-malfunction moment: For more than five years, I had sufferedmysterious vision loss, groping for causes with six New York and LA ophthalmologists. The verdicts ranged from “getting older” to“degenerative eye disease inherited from your mother’s family.”Finally, a specialist at UCLA named one of my HIV meds, the nuke Videx(ddI), as the culprit. Had my doctor or I bothered to read the tinyprint on the Videx Patient Information Insert, I might still be ableto…well, read the tiny print. Today, Videx inserts warn users to haveperiodic retinal exams.

I first took Videx after my AIDSdiagnosis in 1996, continuing on and off for four years. The mednauseated me, yet I needed it to control a high viral load and lowT-cell count. In the summer of 2001, after a bout of acutepancreatitis, I bid Videx a final adieu.

Too late: It hadalready eaten away at receptor cells in the back of my eyes, leavingholes in my vision. This cannot be reversed, and I am now legally blind.

Inhindsight, I could also have found this rare Videx side effect—andreported my own case—at MedWatch, a free, confidential and voluntarysystem for doctors, nurses and patients to report adverse med reactionsdirectly to the FDA (800.332.1088 or You cansearch the website for side effects, though you’ll need patience and amedical dictionary.

While we wait for the drug companies to makebetter meds, we can keep current ones from damaging us. It takes somework, but it’s better than waking up one day to discover you’ve beengroping retired government officials.